This book presents neither a theory of behavior nor a set of generalizations that explain why people behave as they do. Nor does it describe their behavior. Nor is it another of the increasing number of efforts to mathematize or formalize the study of human behavior. What this book does attempt to do is provide a way of looking at human behavior as systems of purposeful (teleological) events…A purposeful system is of a qualitatively higher order than is a goal-seeking system: it can pursue objectives. A goal-seeking system selects its course of action only with respect to a goal – the outcome that can occur in the situation with which it is confronted. A purposeful system can choose courses of action with respect to a criterion, an objective, which is not necessarily a possible outcome in the period considered, but is a possible outcome of future situations of which the current situation’s outcomes are potential coproducers. If a purposeful system fails to achieve its goal in one situation, it may change its goal in order to better pursue the same objective. If a system consistently sacrifices its goals for the sake of its objectives, we can be sure it is a purposeful system
We began construction of a conceptual system in Chapter 2 by assuming the meanings of a few logical, temporal, and spatial concepts, and we used them to define concepts of mechanics and physics. Thus, starting with concepts taken from the formal sciences, we developed a few central concepts of the physical sciences and, using them, then proceeded to the behavioral sciences. The order of this development reflects the commonly held belief that the concepts of science, and hence the sciences themselves, are hierarchical in nature. The concepts of the formal and physical sciences are believed to be fundamental in some sense, and the concepts of the behavioral sciences are believed to be derived from them…We believe that all the concepts of science are interdependent, and therefore illumination of the meaning of any member of the system of scientific concepts can illuminate to varying degrees, each of the other concepts in the system. As we have noted earlier, historical ordering is often confused with logical or epistemological ordering. We do not take the concepts we begin with to be basic in any way, but rather we maintain that they are definable in terms of the concepts derived from them. To show that this is the case is not to close a vicious cycle, but to complete a cycle in which the initial concepts are enriched. It opens the way for another such cycle in which the meanings of all the concepts can be further enhanced.
Logic – the art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitation and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. – The Devil’s Dictionary
While acknowledging that disciplinary segmentation evolved as a way of coping with the complexity of the universe and the study of it, systems theorists challenge the presumption that the world is best understood by segmenting our investigation of it into discrete disciplinary areas, each of which specializes in a particular perspective, level of analysis, or phenomena. Systems theorists argue that such an approach may not be the most appropriate one for meaningfully addressing the complexity of life, and also point to the limitations this structure imposes on the advancement of general and integrative knowledge. Perhaps, one of the most tangible manifestations of this problem can be seen in the curriculum of the average undergraduate student, which offers up a biological view of life in the first hour, a psychological view second hour, a communication view third hour, sociological fourth, political science fifth, and so on, as if human behavior could be best comprehended when compartmentalized in such a manner.
Philosophy’s principal function in the nineteenth century was to synthesize the findings of the various scientific disciplines into one cohesive body of knowledge about natural phenomena. The biggest barrier to such synthesis is the difference between living and nonliving systems, not just the diversity of disciplines
Nature does not come to us in disciplinary form. Phenomena are not physical, chemical, biological, and so on. The disciplines are the ways we study phenomena; they emerge from points of view, not from what is viewed. Hence the disciplinary nature of science is a filing system of knowledge. Its organization is not to be confused with the organization of nature itself…In brief, the need to assemble knowledge of our world into one cohesive view derives from the necessity to take it apart in order to penetrate it in depth.
System: a set of interrelated elements, each of which is related directly or indirectly to every other element, and no subset of which is unrelated to any other subset. Hence, a system is composed of at least 2 elements and a relation that holds each of its elements and at least one other element in the set. The elements form a completely connected set that is not decomposable into unrelated subsets. Therefore, although a system may itself be part of a larger system it cannot be decomposed into independent subsystems
Abstract system – a system all of whose elements are concepts
Concrete system – a system at least two of whose elements are objects
Another major aspect of the individuality of a system is its response capabilities or aptitudes. In considering psychological systems we use the terms in this connection – knowledge, understanding, and intelligence. The first two terms have received more attention from philosophers than from psychologists, but intelligence has been a major preoccupation of psychologists. The meaning of these concepts and the difference among them is far from clear in either ordinary or technical usage. Knowledge – awareness or possession of a fact or state of affairs and/or the possession of a practical skill. Understanding implies something deeper than knowledge – apprehending the meaning or significance of what is known, responsiveness to whatever affects efficiency. Intelligence has to do with the rate at which a subject can learn (learning is the increase in degree of knowledge or understanding over time)
Ideal – an outcome that can never be obtained but can be approached without limit
Purposeful choices come from perception, consciousness (the perception of the mental state of another or oneself), and memory
Models are used because they are easier to manipulate than reality itself. This usually arises from the fact that the images and concepts that make up the models are usually easier to manipulate than is reality, and from their being usually simpler than reality
An individual believes in the existence of things only when he believes they make a difference in his pursuit of his goals. Hence, any attempt to define what is meant by an individual’s belief in the existence of a thing should make reference to the outcome that he seeks (to his purposeful state)
Hypothesis – a belief (which has some doubt associated with it) in the past, present, or future existence of something that has never been perceived
A purposeful individual has 3 different ways of disposing of a problem: dissolution, resolution, and solution
An individual who has a problem can change his intentions so that his dissatisfaction dissolves. It is the removal (production of the subsequent absence) of a problem situation by a purposeful individual who is in it, by a change in that individual’s intentions
Resolution of a problem – the removal of a problem situation by a purposeful individual who is in it, by an arbitrary choice
Solving a problem requires answering two questions – what alternatives are available and which one is best or good enough
Thought is conscious inference. Intuition is unconscious inference
The relation of instrumentality is inherent in the relation between a purposeful system and its purposeful elements. A system must be either variety increasing or variety decreasing
Organisms and organizations are fundamentally different. Both organisms and organizations are purposeful systems, but organisms do not contain purposeful elements. The elements of an organism may be functional, goal-seeking, or multi-goal-seeking, but not purposeful. In an organism only the whole can display will; none of its parts can. Because an organism is a system that has a functional division of labor it can also be said to be organized. Its functionally distinct parts are called organs. Their functioning is necessary but not sufficient for accomplishment of the organism’s purpose(s)
Many wise men have observed that there is more satisfaction in pursuing an end than in attaining it; to play a game well yields more satisfaction than does winning it. Also, some have observed that the researcher’s and manager’s objective is not so much to solve problems as it is to create more challenging and important problems to work on by solving the one at hand. This is to say that the continuous pursuit of more desirable ends is an end in itself, and hence that the attainment of a specific end can be conceptualized as a means to such pursuit. Such observations suggest that a pervasive objective of man and the social systems of which he is a part is the successful pursuit of increasingly desirable objectives. If this is so, then it is reasonable for man and the social systems of which he is part to formulate objectives that can be pursued without end but can be continually approached. Man seeks objectives that enable him to convert the attainment of every goal into a means for the attainment of a new and more desirable goal. The ultimate objective in such a sequence cannot be obtainable; otherwise its attainment would put an end to the process. And end that satisfies these conditions is an ideal. Ideal pursuit can provide cohesiveness and continuity to extended and unpredictable processes, to life and history. Thus the formulation and pursuit of ideals is a means by which man puts meaning and significance into his life and into the history of which he is a part. It also provides the possibility of deriving satisfaction from a life that must end but that can contribute to a history that may not.
The distinction between knowledge and wisdom is important. Knowledge is a means-oriented concept. Wisdom is end- as well as means-oriented. Knowledge is more common than wisdom.
What I got out of it
Thought provoking book and exciting to go deeper on systems thinking and how you can apply it to your day to day life. The idea of dissolving a problem (rather than solving it) is enticing and vibes with the path of least resistance. The idea that organisms’ various parts don’t themselves have purpose but only the whole is important to remember, whereas the constituents of an organization each have their own purpose
System is more than just a concept. It is an intellectual way of life, a worldview, a concept of the nature of reality and how to investigate it – a weltanschauung
A system is a set of two or more elements that satisfies the following 3 conditions: 1) the behavior of each element has an effect on the behavior of the whole, 2) the behavior of the elements and their effects on the whole are interdependent, 3) however subgroups of the elements are formed, each has an effect on the behavior of the whole and none an independent effect on it. A system, therefore, is a whole that cannot be divided into independent parts..The essential properties of a system taken as a whole derive from the interactions of its parts, not their actions taken separately. Therefore, when a system is taken apart it loses its essential properties. Because of this – and this is the critical point – a system is a whole that cannot be understood by analysis.
If each part of a system, considered separately, is made to operate as efficiently as possible, the system as a whole willnotoperate as effectively as possible. For example, if we took the highest quality parts from various cars and put them all together into a new car, we would not even obtain an automobile because the parts would not fit together. Even if they did, they would not work well together. The performance of a system depends more on how its parts interact than on how they act independently of each other. Understanding proceeds from the whole to its parts, not from the parts to the whole as knowledge does.
We must always be concerned with 3 levels of purpose: the purposes of the system, of its parts, and of the system of which it is part, the suprasystem
Systems are either variety-increasing or variety-decreasing relative to the behavior of its parts. A prison is variety-decreasing whereas a library is variety-increasing. The most variety-decreasing type of social system is one we call a bureaucracy. A bureaucracy is an organization whose principal objective is to keep people busy doing nothing. They tend to mechanize procedures, thereby reducing choice
The best system designer is one who knows how to beat any system that others design. A smart sytem can use knowledge of how it can be beat to redesign itself to reduce or eliminate that kind of beating (use of countermeasure teams helps as well)
No system is as smart as some of the people it serves
Reactive planning has two major deficiencies. First, it is based on the mistaken assumption that if one gets rid of what one does not want, one gets what one wants. This assumption can be seen as false by anyone who turns on a television set and gets a program he or she does not want. Preactive planners focus on increasing their ability to forecast changes that will occur. Interactive planners focus on increasing their ability to control or influence change or its effects, and to respond rapidly and effectively to changes they cannot control, thereby decreasing their need to forecast. Reactive planning is primarily concerned with removal of threats; preactive planning is concerned with exploitation of opportunities. Interactive planning is concerned with both equally but it assumes that threats and opportunities are created when an organization does as well as by what is done to it. In planning, breadth is more important than depth, and interactions are more important than actions. Planning cannot be siloed or independent, all levels should be planned for simultaneously and interdpendently. When the principles of coordination and integration are combined the holistic principle is obtained: every part of an organization at every level should plan simultaneously and interdependently. The concept of all-over-at-once planning differs significantly from both reactive bottom-up and preactive top-down planning
With tongue in cheek, we can say that successful long-term planning involves, among other things uncovering the inevitable, determining how to exploit it, and taking credit for having brought it about
One way to obtain control over the future is to reduce the variations one might expect in the behavior of essential parts of the system or its environment
There are 4 ways of treating problems
Absolve – ignore it and hope it will go away or solve itself
Resolve – do something that yields an outcome that is good enough, that satisfies. Try to identify the cause of the problem, remove or suppress it, and thereby return to a previous state (clinical approach)
Solve – do something that yields the best possible outcome, that optimizes. Rely heavily on experimentation and quantitative analysis (research)
Dissolve – elimiante the problem by redesigning the system that has it. Idealize and approximate an ideal system and thereby do better in the future than the best that can be done now
Educators make little or no effort to relate the bits and pieces of information they dispense. Subject matters are kept apart. A course in one subject seldom uses or even refers to the content of another…Such compartmentalization reinforces the concept that knowledge is made up of many unrelated parts. But it is only by grasping the relationship between these parts that information can be transformed into knowledge, knowledge into understanding, and understanding into wisdom…Emphasis on separateness of subjects was characteristic of the Machine Age. Emphasis on relationships and interactions is characteristic of the Systems Age. Machine Age education is disintegrating; that of the Systems Age should be integrating.
Teachers cheat to stay in the system; students, to get out of it
Formal education denies the effectiveness of learning processes that take place out of class or school. Most learning takes place without teaching, but schools are founded on teaching, not learning. Therefore, the Systems Age education should focus on the learning process, not the teaching process. In the Systems Age school children should be motivated to learn whatever they ought to learn but never forced to learn what they do not want to. When students want to learn something or the need for learning it becomes apparent to them, they will learn it
Industrial Age education is variety-decreasing, but individuality should be preserved at all costs. Uniformity and conformity are anathema to progress
It is artificial counterproductive to separate play, formal education, and work
Systems Age education should be organized as a continuing, if not a continuous, process.
Systems Age education should be carried out by either educational systems that can and do learn and adapt. It should facilitate a student’s learning what he wants and needs to learn, enable him to learn more efficiently, and motivate him to want to learn, particularly those things he needs in order to satisfy his own desires and to be socially useful
Some subjects are best learned by teaching them to oneself, some subjects are best learned by teaching them to others, some skills are best learned through demonstration and instruction by one who already has it
Awareness of questions that have either not been asked or answered and synthesis of those answers that are available are best attained in seminar discussions guided by one steeped in the relevant area
Many students are best motivated to learn and best learn how to do so in attempting to solve real problems under real conditions with the guidance of one who is already so motivated and who knows how to learn
A major deficiency in formal education lies in its formality
Small groups of 3-5 students can be organized into learning cells in which they teach each other different subjects or different parts of the same subject.
Closed-book examinations – the type most frequently used – are poor tests of knowledge or understanding because they are not like real-life situations in which a person’s knowledge and understanding are tested and evaluated. They are primarily tests of memory. In real life, we are evaluated by how well we get jobs done.
I believe it is not nearly as important that a student learns any particular subject as it is that he learns how to learn and how to enjoy doing so. Subjects, disciplines, and even professions are convenient ways of labeling and filing knowledge. But the world is not organized in the same way as our knowledge of it is. There are no physical, chemical, biological, psychological, sociological, or other unidisciplinary problems. The disciplines and subjects are not different parts of the world; they are different ways of looking at the world. Hence, any problem can be looked at form the point of view from any discipline. For example, a doctor may see an elderly woman’s lack of good health as a consequence of her weak heart; an architect may see it as deriving from her having to walk up 3 flights of stairs to her inadequate apartment; an economist may see it as due to her lack of income; and a sociologist as a consequence of her family’s indifference. Progress comes from creative reorganization of what we already know as from discovery of new things. Therefore, we should not imbed our current wants of knowledge in students’ minds as fixed categories. They should be encouraged to oranize their learning in ways that best serve them, not us. Because what one learns is not nearly as important as learning how to leanr, and because questions are at least as important as answers, students should be free to design their own curricula
An ounce of information is worth a pound of data. An ounce of knowledge is worth a pound of information. An ounce of understanding is worth a pound of knowledge
Information is contained in descriptions, answers to questions that begin with such words as who, what, when, where, and how many. Knowledge is conveyed by instructions, answers to how-to questions. Understanding is conveyed by explanations, answers to why questions
Effectiveness is evaluated efficiency. It is efficiency multiplied by value, efficiency for a valued outcome. Intelligence is the ability to increase efficiency; wisdom is the ability to increase effectiveness
There are as many realities as there are minds contemplating them. Learning how to determine what points of view will produce the best treatment should be, but seldom is, an essential part of education
Academic departments and curricula do not organize knowledge; they organize teachers and disorganize knowledge. It is important for students to realize that the best place to deal with a problem is not necessarily where the problem appears. For example, we don’t try to treat headaches with brain surgery, but by swallowing a pill
What’s wrong with teaching? Four things are wrong with teaching. 1) More concerned with transmitting than receiving (although talking to others is a good way to find out what we think, it is often a very poor way of learning what they think). 2) it assumes ignorance on the part of the students. 3) it discourages, if not kills, creativity. 4) it normally uses tests and examinations to determine what students have learned, and they do not do so effectively.
The less we expect from others, the less we are likely to get from them
It is particularly important for managers to understand that correlation and regression analyses cannot establish causal relationships – only experiments can do that
First, we shall consider science as a process of inquiry; that is, as a procedure for a) answering questions, b) solving problems, and c) developoing more effective procedures for answering questions and solving problems. Science is also frequently taken to be a body of knowledge. We shall concentrate, however, on the process which generates this knowledge rather than on the knowledge itself.
Scientific progress has been two dimensional. First, the range of questions and problems to which science has been applied has been continuously extended. Second, science has continuously increased the efficiency with which inquiry can be conducted. The products of scientific inquiry then are 1) a body of information and knowledge which enables us better to control the environment in which we live, and 2) a body of procedures which enables us better to add to this body of information and knoweldge. science both informs and instructs. The body of information generated by science and the knowledge of how to use it are two products of science
The phases of research – observation, generalization, experimentation
Research in 6 phases – formulating the problem, constructing the model, testing the model, deriving a solution from the model, testing and controlling the solution, implementing the solution
As the rate of change increases, the complexity of the problems that face us also increases.
Analysis focuses on structure; it reveals how things work. Synthesis focuses on function; it reveals why things operate as they do. Therefore, analysis yields knowledge; synthesis yields understanding. The former enables us to describe; the latter, to explain.
There are 3 basic types of systems and models of them: deterministic (neither parts nor the whole are purposeful), animated (the whole is purposeful but the parts are not), social (parts and whole are purposeful). All are contained in ecological systems – some of whose parts are purposeful but not the whole
Henry Ford’s phenomenal success in the creation of a mechanistic mass production system marked the beginning of the production era but contained the seeds of its demise. He failed to appreciate the potentiality of the process he initiated when he said, in effect, “they can have any color they want as long as it is black.” This gave Alfred Sloan of General Motors the opportunity to gain domination of the market.
To grow is to increase in size or number. To develop is to increase one’s ability and desire to satisfy one’s own needs and legitimate desires and those of others. A legitimate desire is one that, when satisfied, does not impede the development of anyone else. Development is an increase in capability and competence. Development is better reflected in quality of life than in standard of living.
To learn is to increase one’s efficiency in the pursuit of a goal under unchanging conditions
The principal objective of a contract should be to ensure terminal satisfaction of both parties
Whatever else creativity implies, it implies production of the unexpected. It is the unexpected that produces the quantum leaps in development and quality of life
Wisdom is the ability to see the long-run consequences of current actions, the willingness to sacrifice short-run gains for larger long-run benefits, and the ability to control what is controllable and not to fret over what is not. Therefore, the essence of wisdom is concern with the future. It is not the type of concern with the future that the fortune teller has; he only tries to predict it. The wise man tries to control it. Planning is the design of a desired future and of effective ways of bringing it about. It is an instrument that is used by the wise, but not by the wise alone. When conducted by lesser men it often becomes an irrelevant ritual that produces short-run peace of mind, but not the future that is longed for.
Unless the adoption of a mission statement changes the behavior of the firm that makes it, it has no value. It should differentiate it from other companies, a mission statement should define the business that the company wants to be in, not necessarily is in, should be relevant to all the firm’s stakeholders, should be exciting and inspiring, does not have to appear to be feasible, only desirable
Good management follows the 5 C’s: Competence, Communicativeness, Concern, Courage, Creativity. The greatest of these is creativity – the creative manager makes his own breaks
Chase, Chance, and Creativity
Beauty is that property of the works and workings of man and Nature that stimulates new aspirations and commitments to their pursuit. No wonder we say of a solution to a problem that inspires us, “it is beautiful.”
A wrong solution to the right problem is generally better than the right solution to the wrong problem, because one usually gets feedback that enables one to correct wrong solutions, but not wrong problems. Wrong problems are perpetuated by right solutions to them.
The personality of a child added to a family tends to be formed so as to increase the stability of the family
Many people fail to realize that there are two kinds of power – power over and power to. Power over is authority and command, whereas power to is the ability to implement
Most of us who have suffered from an information overload are aware of the fact that when the amount of information exceeds a certain amount, a supersaturation point, both the amount and percentage of it that we try to absorb decreases. We give up hope of being able to keep up and abandon our efforts to do so. The more we get beyond this point the less we use.
It has long been known in science that the less we understand something, the more variables we require to explain it. Therefore, the manager who is asked what information he needs to control something he does not fully understand usually plays it safe and says he wants as much information as he can get
Style has to do with the satisfaction we derive from what we do rather than what we do it for
Stakeholder view of the firm – one stakeholder group, larger than all the others combined, is almost always ignored, future generations. They may be the ones most seriously affected by what is done today. How can their interests be taken into account when we do not know what their interests will be? We do know one thing about future generations: they will be interested in making their own decisions, not in having had us make their decisions for them. This requires keeping their options open
The difference between the amount of resources consumed by a corporation and the amount of consumption it makes possible is the amount of wealth it creates
The principal responsibility of managers is to create an environment and conditions under which their subordinates and do their jobs as effectively as their capabilities allow. It is not to supervise them. That is, the principal responsibility of a manager is to manage over and up, not down, to manage the interactions of their units with the rest of the organization and its environment, not to manage the actions of their subordinates. If subordinates require supervision beyond an initial break-in period, they should be replaced by persons who do not require it
What I got out of it
A brilliant thinker who makes the complex simple – especially liked what he had to say about education and solving – resolving – dissolving problems
The fundamental problem does not lie in any particular System but rather in Systems as Such. Salvation, if it is attainable at all, even partially, is to be sought in a deeper understanding of the ways of all Systems, not simply in a criticism of the errors of a particular system. Systems are seductive. They promise to do a hard job faster, better, and more easily than you could do it by yourself. But if you setup a System, you are likely to find your time and effort now being consumed in the care and feeding of the system itself. New problems are created by its very presence. Once set up, it won’t go away; it grows and encroaches. It begins to do strange and wonderful things and breaks down in ways you never thought possible. It kicks back, gets in the way and opposes its own proper function. Your own perspective becomes distorted by being in the system. You become anxious and push on it to make it work. Eventually you come to believe that the misbegotten product it so grudgingly delivers is what you really wanted all the time. At that time, encroachment is complete. You have become absorbed. You are now a systems-person.
Systemism – mindless belief in systems, that they can be made to function to achieve desired goals. The strange behavior (antics) of complex systems
Systems Never Do What We Really Want Them to Do
Malfunction is the rule and flawless operation the exception. Cherish your system failures in order to best improve
The height and depth of practical wisdom lies in the ability to recognize and not to fight against the Laws of Systems. The most effective approach to coping is to learn the basic laws of systems behavior. Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem
Systems don’t enjoy being fiddled with and will react to protect themselves and the unwary intervenor may well experience an unexpected shock
Failure to function as expected is to be expected. It is a perfectly general feature of systems not to do what we expected them to do.
“Anergy” is the unit of human effort required to bring the universe into line with human desires, needs, or pleasures. The total amount of anergy in the universe is constant. While new systems may reduce the problem it set out to, it also produces new problems.
Once a system is in place, it not only persists but grows and encroaches
Reality is more complex than it seems and complex systems always exhibit unexpected behavior. A system is not a machine. It’s behavior cannot be predicted even if you know it’s mechanism
Systems tend to oppose their own proper functions. There is always positive and negative feedback and oscillations in between. The pendulum swings
Systems tend to malfunction conspicuously just after their greatest triumph. The ghost of the old system continues to haunt the new
People in systems do not do what the system says they are doing. In the same vein, a larger system does not do the same function as performed as the smaller system. The larger the system the less the variety in the product. The name is most emphatically not the thing
To those within a system, the outside reality tends to pale and disappear. They are experiencing sensory deprivation (lack of contrasting experiences) and experience an altered mental state. A selective process occurs where the system attracts and keeps those people whose attributes are such as are attracted them to life in that system: systems abstract systems people
The bigger the system, the narrower and more specialized the interface with individuals (SS number rather than dealing with a human)
Systems delusions are the delusion systems that are almost universal in our modern world
Designers of systems tend to design ways for themselves to bypass the system. If a system can be exploited, it will and any system can be exploited
If a big system doesn’t work, it won’t work. Pushing systems doesn’t help and adding manpower to a late project typically doesn’t help. However, some complex systems do work and these should be left alone. Don’t change anything. A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and can not be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system. Few areas offer greater potential reward than understanding the transition from working simple system to working complex system
In complex systems, malfunction and even total non function may not be detectable for long periods, if ever. Large complex systems tend to be beyond human capacity to evaluate. But whatever the system has done before, you can be sure it will do again
The system is its own best explanation – it is a law unto itself. They develop internal goals the instant they come into being and these goals come first. Systems don’t work for you or me. They work for their own goals and behaves as if it has a will to live
Most large systems are operating in failure mode most of the time. So, it is important to understand how it fails, how it works when it’s components aren’t working well, how well does it work in failure mode. The failure modes can typically not be determined ahead of time and the crucial variables tend to be discovered by accident
There will always be bugs and we can never be sure if they’re local or not. Cherish these bugs, study them for they significantly advance you towards the path of avoiding failure. Life isn’t a matter of just correcting occasional errors, bugs, or glitches. Error-correction is what we are doing every instant of our lives
Form may follow function but don’t count on it. As systems grow in size and complexity, they tend to lose basic functions (supertankers can’t dock)
Colossal systems cause colossal errors and these errors tend to escape notice. If it is grandiose enough, it may not even be comprehended as an error (50,000 Americans die each year in car accidents but it is not seen as a flaw of the transportation system, merely a fact of life.) Total Systems tend to runaway and go out of control
In setting up a new system, tread softly. You may be disturbing another system that is actually working
It is impossible not to communicate – but it isn’t always what you want. The meaning of a communication is the behavior that results
Knowledge is useful in the service of an appropriate model of the universe, and not otherwise. Information decays and the most urgently needed information decays fastest. However, one system’s garbage is another system’s precious raw material. The information you have is not the information you want. The information you want is not the information you need. The information you need is not the information you can obtain.
In a closed system, information tends to decrease and hallucination tends to increase
What Can Be Done
Inevitability-of-Reality Fallacy – things have to be the way they are and not otherwise because that’s just the way they are. The person or system who has a problem and doesn’t realize it has two problems, the problem itself and the meta-problem of unawareness
Problem avoidance is the strategy of avoiding head-on encounters with a stubborn problem that does not offer a good point d’appui, or toe hold. It is the most under-rated of all methods of dealing with problems. Little wonder, for its practitioners are not to be found struggling valiantly against staggering odds, nor are they to be seen fighting bloody but unbowed, nor are they observed undergoing glorious martyrdom. They are simply somewhere else, successfully doing something else. Like Lao Tzu himself, they have slipped quietly away into a happy life of satisfying obscurity. The opposite of passivity is initiative, or responsibility – not energetic futility. Choose your systems with care. Destiny is largely a set of unquestioned assumptions
Creative Tack – if something isn’t working, don’t keep doing it. Do something else instead – do almost anything else. Search for problems that can be neatly and elegantly solved with the resources (or systems) at hand. The formula for success is not commitment to the system but commitment to Systemantics
The very first principle of systems-design is a negative one: do without a new system if you can. Two corollaries: do it with an existing system if you can; do it with a small system if you can.
Almost anything is easier to get into than out of. Taking it down is often more tedious than setting it up
Systems run best when designed to run downhill. In essence, avoid uphill configurations, go with the flow. In human terms, this means working with human tendencies rather than against them. Loose systems last longer and function better. If the system is built too tight it will seize up, peter out, or fly apart. Looseness looks like simplicity of structure, looseness in everyday functioning; “inefficiency” in the efficiency-expert’s sense of the term; and a strong alignment with basic primate motivations
Slack in the system, redundancy, “inefficiency” doesn’t cost, it pays
Bad design can rarely be overcome by more design, whether bad or good. In other words, plan to scrap the first system when it doesn’t work, you will anyway
Calling it “feedback” doesn’t mean that it has actually fed back. It hasn’t fed back until the system changes course. The reality that is presented to the system must also make sense if the system is to make an appropriate response. The sensory input must be organized into a model of the universe that by its very shape suggests the appropriate response. Too much feedback can overwhelm the response channels, leading to paralysis and inaction. The point of decision will be delayed indefinitely, and no action will be taken. Togetherness is great, but don’t knock get-away-ness. Systems which don’t know how much feedback there will be or which sources of feedback are critical, will begin to fear feedback and regard it as hostile, and even dangerous to the system. The system which ignores feedback has already begun the process of terminal instability. This system will be shaken to pieces by repeated violent contact with the environment it is trying to ignore. To try to force the environment to adjust to the system, rather than vice versa, is truly to get the cart before the horse
What the pupil must learn, if he learns anything, is that the world will do most of the work for you, provided you cooperate with it by identifying how it really works and identifying with those realities. – Joseph Tussman
Nature is only wise when feedbacks are rapid. Like nature, systems cannot be wise when feedbacks are unduly delayed. Feedback is likely to cause trouble if it is either too prompt or too slow. However, feedback is always a picture of the past. The future is no more predictable now than it was in the past, but you can at least take note of trends. The future is partly determined by what we do now and it’s at this point that genuine leadership becomes relevant. The leader sees what his system can become. He has that image in mind. It’s not just a matter of data, it’s a matter of the dream. A leader is one who understands that our systems are only bounded by what we can dream. Not just ourselves, but our systems also, are such stuff as dreams are made on. It behooves us to look to the quality of our dreams
Catalytic managership is based on the premise that trying to make something happen is too ambitious and usually fails, resulting in a great deal of wasted effort and lowered morale. On the other hand, it is sometimes possible to remove obstacles in the way of something happening. A great deal may then occur with little effort on the part of the manager, who nevertheless (and rightly) gets a large part of the credit. Catalytic managership will only work if the system is so designed that something can actually happen – a condition that commonly is not met. Catalytic managership has been practiced by leaders of genius throughout recorded history. Gandhi is reported to have said, “There go my people. I must find out where they are going, so I can lead them.” Choosing the correct system is crucial for success in catalytic managership. Our task, correctly understood, is to find out which tasks our system performs well and use it for those. Utilize the principle of utilization
The system itself does not solve problems. The system represents someone’s solution to a problem. The problem is a problem precisely because it is incorrectly conceptualized in the first place, and a large system for studying and attacking the problem merely locks in the erroneous conceptualization into the minds of everyone concerned. What is required is not a large system, but a different approach. Solutions usually come from people who see in the problem only an interesting puzzle, and whose qualifications would never satisfy a select committee. Great advances do not come out of systems designed to produce great advances. Major advances take place by fits and starts
Most innovations and advancements come from outside the field
It is generally easier to aim at changing one or a few things at a time and then work out the unexpected effects, than to go to the opposite extreme, attempting to correct everything in one grand design is appropriately designated as grandiosity. In dealing with large systems, the striving for perfection is a serious imperfection. Striving for perfection produces a kind of tunnel-vision resembling a hypnotic state. Absorbed in the pursuit of perfecting the system at hand, the striver has no energy or attention left over for considering others, possibly better, ways of doing the whole thing
Nipping disasters in the bud, limiting their effects, or, better yet, preventing them, is the mark of a truly competent manager. Imagination in disaster is required – the ability to visualize the many routes of potential failure and to plug them in advance, without being paralyzed by the multiple scenarios of disaster thus conjured up. In order to succeed, it is necessary to know how to avoid the most likely ways to fail. Success requires avoiding many separate possible causes of failure.
In order to be effective, an intervention must introduce a change at the correct logical level. If your problem seems unsolvable, consider that you may have a meta problem
Control is exercised by the element with the greatest variety of behavioral responses – always act so as to increase your options. However, we can never know all the potential behaviors of the system
The observer effect – the system is altered by the probe used to test it. However, there can be no system without its observer and no observation without its effects
Look for the self-referential point – that’s where the problem is likely to be (nuclear armament leading to mutually assured destruction)
Be weary of the positive feedback trap. If things seem to be getting worse even faster than usual, consider that the remedy may be at fault. Escalating the wrong solution does not improve the outcome. The author proposes a new word, “Escalusion” or “delusion-squared orD2“, to represent escalated delusion
If things are acting very strangely, consider that you may be in a feedback situation. Alternatively, when problems don’t yield to commonsense solutions, look for the “thermostat” (the trigger creating the feedback)
The remedy must strike deeply at the roots of the system itself to produce any significant effect
Reframing is an intellectual tool which offers hope of providing some degree of active mastery in systems. A successful reframing of the problem has the power to invalidate such intractable labels as “crime”, “criminal”, or “oppressor” and render them as obsolete and irrelevant as “ether” in modern physics. When reframing is complete, the problem is not “solved” – it doesn’t even exist anymore. There is no longer any problem to discuss, let alone a solution. If you can’t change the system, change the frame – it comes to the same thing. The proposed reframing must be genuinely beneficial to all parties or it will produce a destructive kickback. A purported reframing which is in reality an attempt to exploit will inevitably be recognized as such sooner or later. The system will go into dense mode and all future attempts to communicate will be viewed as attempts to exploit, even when not so motivated
Everything correlates – any given element of one system is simultaneously an element in an infinity of other systems. The fact of linkage provides a unique, subtle, and powerful approach to solving otherwise intractable problems. As a component of System a, element x is perhaps inaccessible. But as a component of System B, C, or D…it can perhaps be affected in the desired direction by intervening in System B, C, D…
In order to remain unchanged, the system must change. Specifically, the changes that must occur are changes in the patterns of changing (or strategies) previously employed to prevent drastic internal change. The capacity to change in such a way as to remain stable when the ground rules change is a higher-order level of stability, which fully deserves its designation as Ultra-stability
What I got out of it
A fun and sarcastic read about systems, their general behavior, how difficult they are to change, and much more.